Life’s Purpose and Meaning

In one of those suffering bouts I had recently, it was so hard that I despaired even of life (as at other times before). It was long, arduous, almost unbearable. But I held on, always hoping and desperately expecting I would come through the other side fine. Those physical sufferings are so unrepentantly cruel one feels like one’s being forced to drink an acrid [bitter, caustic, harsh] liquid, the whole cup of it, and then live in that acerbic condition with no means of escape. While I waited for relief, I was driven to think about many deep things.

God is love

Why did God create man? He is from everlasting where time doesn’t exist, surely, He could have continued on without us? He is God, He is complete in Himself, certainly, He doesn’t need anything outside of Himself? My soul pained to ask desperately for I couldn’t fathom the purpose of so much suffering. For it is indescribably hard to live in an acrid environment.

Why did God create people if He knew in the end, they would suffer all sorts of things? Sickness, heart-wrenching problems, ruthless death? Should it not have been merciful to have left us out in the realm of non-existence? Maybe the likeness of these words seem familiar to you. Yes, Job had uttered them when in his own horrendous suffering, he had lamented the day of his birth (see Job 3).

I didn’t ask this in bitterness of soul. I believe I’m past that, by God’s amazing grace. I was driven to ask this maybe because I wanted to understand the purpose and meaning of life, in particular, my life. Maybe when I at least had a grasp of it, I could live with my illness and suffering better, have a sense of fulfilment, and be happier in the process.

I thought that the life span of man is too short for — what, really? For success in one’s chosen field, in one’s work, in one’s vocation, in whatever one’s heart has set into? While I waited out for relief from suffering, I imagined one’s life, anyone’s, whether it was lived full of accomplishments or not, it would end. You would hope that the ones who were left behind may live far better, more memorable lives, so that one’s death would have been a gain. But there’s no guarantee to that. Life goes on as like before.

So, it goes on from generation to the next and the next. In my mind, I saw the people, including me, trudging through life. Sometimes happy, sometimes weary. They go out to their respective toils under the sun, day in and day out. Year in and year out. (Now, I’m sounding like the cynical Preacher in Ecclesiastes).

What, may I ask, is the real purpose and meaning of life? Why are we even here? Why has God put us here in the very first place?

Here are the answers I got:

God is love and how can He translate that love into an experience if not to give it away? How can He be love if He cannot give of Himself? So, He created man in His own image. In that, He has shown His love, for He wanted us to share in His likeness. He created heaven and earth and all that is in them for man to subdue and rule over. He created Eden and put the first man and woman there and He wanted them to be perfectly happy WITH Him without a need for anything more. In His great love, He gave them everything to live by and each other so that they wouldn’t be lonely. Most of all, He wanted to give of Himself to them, for them to freely enjoy and delight in.

That was the plan. But we know what happened next. Now, here we are.

God created man to make a channel for His great love. But we had not really gotten it from the time of Adam and Eve. And maybe until now.

If God created us for and because of His love, then there is no other purpose and meaning of our lives than that to know, receive, respond, reciprocate, and live in that love.

Therefore, whatever we do, whatever we dream of doing, whatever course or career we pursue, that love is the fulcrum in which we move about. It is around it where all things in our lives revolve. God is at the very center, at the very core.

He must continue loving us and giving to us. Our lives, therefore, should be fully open for Him to freely love, to delight in, to enjoy, to bless. Us a continuous offering laid down without resistance. The worst we could do with our lives is to shut them up from His love and shut Him out.

Our life’s purpose and meaning, then, are not the roles we play and perform or the work we do per se, but in living our lives in which God is a big part of. That’s the reason why He gave us His Holy Spirit, through our surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ, so that we will exist and live together. That has always been His master plan: for Him and us to live together in love and harmony.

Our lives then are not about our successes, fulfilment of dreams, and all other blessings received. But it is about the Lover, the Giver, the Savior, the Healer, the Prayer Answerer, the Dream Fulfiller, the Blesser and how we have opened up our lives for Him to be ALL that to us.

So, if we are pulling away from that love, God will make ways to pull us back. Sometimes, His ways are painful, hard to understand. But if we look back to His being Love, we would know then. And understand better. That it is all done in love. The one and only reason. For He is Love and He can’t and won’t change. It’s His nature. It’s Him.

As for me, I won’t think that my sickness and suffering is God’s purpose and meaning for my life. Or course not. He is the Healer. But then, if I would live my life, ailing and weak and suffering as it is, as an open vessel to receive all His love, to be a life which He could live in and do life with – then, I would also have served my life’s meaning and purpose. So, whether I spend my days in bed (I even paint here nowadays) or out there, my life should be God’s. And lived like it’s really His. In His love.

As we love on Him in worship, whatever our positions and situations in life, He loves us much more. Indescribably more. Unfathomably more. As we dance this divine dance, held in each other’s arms in a holy embrace, we become one: the very purpose He created us. And in this dance, He heals us.

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Healing of the Heart and Soul

I continue to revel in this lightheartedness brought about by the healing of the heart and soul. For that is what it brings: lightness of the spirit – heart that’s healthy and free and soul that’s not stooped and shrinking. So, I bask under the Lord Jesus’ light and love even though the trials are still here.

love of God

All who come to Jesus are, in one way or another, ailing in heart and soul. That’s why we come to the Savior: to be healed and receive salvation. So, we receive the immense gift of grace: the forgiveness of all our sins and healing from our past. We are made whole. By His stripes we are healed (Is. 53:5). We are made into new creation (see 2 Cor. 5:17).

But somewhere along the faith journey, trials come, some are too hard to bear that we struggle, really struggle, to be able to overcome. Sometimes the struggle takes years. If we surrender to the molding, forming, and shaping of the Potter’s hand, processes that are not without pain, it may create in us a faith that’s strong, steadfast, unmovable.

But the long, arduous trials that seem to have no end may also harden the heart and make the soul bitter. Suffering, the kind that is beyond understanding, can send one to a whirlwind of negative emotions that may be hard to shake off. Such was what happened to me.

For years through sickness and suffering, the struggles have really been hard. At the end of the day, you will know that the struggle is really with God. You get hurt, dismayed, disappointed, discouraged, depressed, and deep in your heart, you believe that it is because of Him. Why doesn’t He do something? is a question that somewhat summarizes and represents all the whys. Over time, you develop feelings of envy, jealousy, and self-pity, just because you don’t receive what you are fervently begging for while others enjoy the very same thing. As the desert stretches endlessly before you, the sadness settles like a rock and the longing burrows deeper and becomes more painful. As suffering intensifies, the heart works hard to cope. But bitterness, cynicism, numbness, resentment, and silent rage can easily take up space there. Every now and then, they gain the upper hand in an insidious way. Most of the time, you won’t realize it, but they are there and they won’t go away, unless the Healer comes to take them away.

You feel so vulnerable, like a fragile porcelain ready to shatter to thousand pieces with just the slightest touch.

So, can we still get heart-and soul-broken even when we’re in the Lord Jesus Christ? The answer is yes.

I don’t think there’s anyone who is immune to such struggles. Even the prominent men and women of the Bible went through the same struggles. King David wrote psalms upon psalms of his gruelling trials and how he had painfully questioned God for them.

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me? (Ps. 13:1)

There is a beloved young father in church, one who is closest to the household of God and therefore, you would think that his faith is unshakeable. But when a painful trial came to their family, he struggled greatly to the point that he wanted to run away from God for good. He wanted to find answers. Oh, the struggles of the soul that he had to go through! When he testified in the pulpit, he spoke of the deepest emotions a heart and soul are capable of reaching (choking back tears). He opened his soul as wide as that before the whole congregation. It is part and parcel of his healing.

In the midst of indescribable suffering, you only want two things: to be delivered speedily or for God to lift off His heavy hand that is upon you and let you breathe. Oh, how Job had longed for that!

“Only two things do not do to me,
Then I will not hide myself from You:
21 Withdraw Your hand far from me,
And let not the dread of You make me afraid.” Job 13:20-21)

I love Kari Jobe’s song, The Garden, from her latest album of the same title. During an interview, she shared how the lyrics of the song came about: from the ashes of a painful trial in their family.

I can see the ivy
Growing through the wall
‘Cause You’ll stop at nothing
To heal my broken soul.

Ohh, You’re healing broken souls… (From The Garden by Kari Jobe)

Kari’s soul was broken because of the trial. Her healing came about when she went out to their garden and saw the ivy. The Lord spoke to her through it. It was an epiphany for her.

How was I healed of my own brokenness brought not by sin but by unrelenting sickness and suffering? When I decided to walk away from the place of heart-and-soul oppression and stood on neutral ground. I wanted to enter Jesus’ love like auto mode, but it wasn’t actually happening in my heart. I still wanted to stare into blank space and think about nothing and feel nothing. Maybe it is in that place of nothingness, when I emptied myself of the negative emotions, meaning, I didn’t give in to them even after episodes of suffering, but kept my heart and mind on neutral, that the Lord was able to get in.

But I know that much of it came at the heels of my withdrawal from Facebook and the negative effects it was having in my life; when I heeded the Lord’s call to come away with Him to a quiet place. The Lord invites us to peel our eyes off of the world and turn them fully on Him.

Understand with your heart
    and turn, and I would heal you. (From Mat. 13:15)

In the midst of pain and confusion, we want to sulk, to be in a huge sulk with God and that could take any form. Like running away from Him. Even silently, in the heart. But He goes after us, or maybe He is already there where we want to go, waiting. He whispers, “Come away with me.” 

What does this tell us about Him? That He will never give up on us even though in our moments of weakness we entertain the thought of giving up on Him (you know, as a part of the sulk)? Could it be that He’s being true to His promise? That nothing, nothing, can separate us from His love?

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39)

I shout in my spirit, “Yes!!!”

MY ART

Mothers’ Day is approaching, so I would like to share with you my art with the hope that you may find something you would like to gift away. Below I have uploaded my original watercolor paintings. Premium prints are also available should you be interested. I only use professional or artist watercolors and paper is 100% cotton, 300gsm, acid-free, mainly Saunders Waterford by St. Cuthberts Mill. For premium prints, paper used is also 300gsm, textured, special art paper.

To order or inquire, you may email me at: rinaperu@yahoo.com. Payment for international orders is via PayPal. For local orders, via BDO bank deposit.

12 inches x 16 inches ORIGINAL WATERCOLOR PAINTINGS

(Prices range from $80-$100).

abundant

ABUNDANT

 

BLOOMS IN A COPPER JUG

BLOOMS IN A COPPER JUG

 

YELLOW ROSE BUSH

YELLOW ROSE BUSH

 

PERSIMMONS

PERSIMMONS

 

OVERFLOW

OVERFLOW

 

SAMPAGUITA (JASMINE)

SAMPAGUITA (JASMINE)

 

PURPLE ORCHIDS

PURPLE ORCHIDS

 

PEACH ROSE BUSH

PEACH ROSE BUSH

 

LIGHTS

LIGHTS (Only premium print is available)

9 inches x 12 inches ORIGINAL WATERCOLOR PAINTINGS

(Prices range from $40-$50).

LILAC

LILAC

 

SIMPLICITY

SIMPLICITY

 

BLUE AND RED

BLUE AND RED

 

GRACE

GRACE

 

SHINE

SHINE

 

GENTLENESS

GENTLENESS

12 inches x 12 inches ORIGINAL WATERCOLOR PAINTINGS

(Paper used is Khadi 100% cotton, 300gsm, handmade paper).

RED AND GREEN ROSE

RED AND GREEN ROSE

 

SORBET PEONY

SORBET PEONY

 

PEACH ROSE

PEACH ROSE

 

PINK ROSE

PINK ROSE

 

RED DAHLIA

RED DAHLIA

 

PURPLE DAHLIA

PURPLE DAHLIA

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The Posture of Worship

The posture of worship for the strong is on their knees or standing, hands raised towards heaven while singing with all their hearts and might. There maybe exuberant clapping, dancing, and jumping, depending on the music, or trembling and crying in the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. I have yet to experience these. Most of the time, I find myself in a prone position while I do my best to focus on breathing well, which is often hard, while the Jesus Finest Generation Choir sings during worship service. It’s been mostly like that these past more than 13 years. I cannot count the times I had marveled at how my difficult circumstances hardly ever changes. I look at the singers on the riser and wonder how different my situation is from them. How vastly different! And it pains me to think why it has always been so for many years now.

"We love Him because He first loved us."

If you have been in my blog orbit these past more than 5 years, you know how I have struggled against the hardships my sickness and suffering brings and all the emotional, mental, and spiritual turmoil I go through. And though I always write about my embattled faith still standing strong through it all, it felt like my relationship with God was fraying around the edges, like it couldn’t be entirely, seamlessly, flawlessly whole while I wrestled with the many important issues in my faith life. There were the struggles against envy, self-pity, bitterness, resentment, discouragement, numbness, hurts and pains, deep longings, sadness, anger, fear, cynicism, coldness, and silent rebellion in the heart. Whew!

There were the starings into empty space with empty mind and numb heart, wishing that the blankness would swallow up all the seemingly endless suffering. And it would suddenly be all over.

But recently, the Lord called me into His rest, His holy presence, not through a powerful, Spirit-filled worship, but through gentle whispers in my heart.

A lot has happened internally since then. And though my sickness and suffering has yet to relent, I realized that I was being transformed deep inside. There had been many “refining processes” before. I call them fiery trials and through them, a lot of changes have happened in me. But through the years with no complete healing in sight, I had continued to wrestle with God, much like Jacob did.

This time, God has revealed to me the posture of worship. It is not always standing and singing.

It is not always an abandoned praise where you give all that is within you. It is all that you are. Even when you’re not singing or praising. It is who you are during the times that you cannot rise to sing and lift up your hands.

The posture of worship even in the most difficult times is humility, deep gratitude, and unquestioning faith. The highest worship we could give God is our faith even when it feels like we’ve been thrown into the fiery furnace lit seven times stronger and that it spins like a dryer. (In a cement manufacturing plant, you will see a giant revolving kiln, its height could take up two floors. This is where limestone and other materials are melted to make cement. You will see the product coming out of the kiln like red, liquid fire. The surrounding area is so hot).

Even so, but to still believe in Him and trust Him. To still draw closer to Him and believe that He is good, gracious, and plenteous in mercy. To never doubt that ever again.

To spurn the thoughts swirling in our minds that He is a severe God, that He doesn’t listen to our most fervent prayers. That maybe He’s not fair? That He loves us less than the others? For “Jacob He has loved, but Esau He has hated” (Rom. 9:13), right?

But we don’t embrace these. We cast them out from us. Because we are those children who love their Father, who want to keep on loving Him. Forever. For only in this we become strong. Only in this we are happy – truly, spiritually happy.

everlasting love

My painting of last year. (Please excuse my terrible brush lettering).

So we love Him, for doesn’t the Bible say that we do because He first did it? “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). And this love didn’t only start 2000 years ago. It is from everlasting. He has loved us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). (I always want to remember this). So, even in our very difficult suffering, in our very hard places, we will love Him (crying).

We will love Him even through the blinding rain of our tears.

We will love Him because we know. We know the Truth, We know His Word. To love Him is to trust Him. No fight left in us. It is just a willing surrender. A trusting surrender. A loving surrender. That is the posture of worship.

No defiance, no bitterness, no resentment, no numbness, no hardheartedness. Just joyfully loving Him. Like a child who adores and clings to her father.

How can that even be possible when you’re battered by sickness and suffering, buffeted by diverse trials? And He, who alone can take us out of them, seems to be not moving a finger? And why ever not? All things are possible with Him, in Him, through Him, and for Him.

Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23)

I love that.

So, I need not envy others. In Christ I am complete. That is the simple truth. If I believe otherwise, I have listened to the devil’s lie. The Lord Jesus did not only die to save me, He also resurrected so I, too, will live forevermore.

So, we do not only worship the Healer because we’re desperate for healing. We worship because that’s how we’ve been wired. We are created to worship Him. This is the meaning of worshiping in spirit and in truth. We worship even through trials and tribulations, for we do not worship only because of our circumstances, but in His truth. The truth that remains unchanged forever. We worship in that truth. And in the spirit, where the love sowed by the Holy Spirit is connected to its Creator.

The posture of worship will always be on our knees, literally and figuratively.

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Of Christ’s Fullness

I was glad when, a few days before Christmas, I arrived at the Book of John in my daily Bible reading and journaling. This is what I do: I read one book from the OT Beginning at Genesis, then one book from NT, beginning at the Book of Matthew, back and forth. What preceded John was Deuteronomy, so it was law to grace. Unlike Luke, John doesn’t retell the birth of Jesus, but it is equally rich in powerful promises. Walking through the Book of John is like walking through a diamond mine.

GRACE. My original watercolor painting on 9" x 12" wc paper. (Reference photo by Serah Loud via IG).

GRACE. My original watercolor painting on 9″ x 12″ wc paper. (Reference photo by Serah Loud via IG).

Full of bright expectations, I was on the lookout for God’s riches in the form of words and promises. And they came, like precious gems sparkling in a dark cave.

And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:16-17)

Of Christ’s fullness we have all received. 

His truth. His grace. His forgiveness. His salvation. His healing. His life.

Yes, because,

…As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God… (John 1:12)

the right

to become

children of God

As the Lord Jesus is, so are we in this world (part of 1 John 4:17). . Heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (part of Romans 8:17).

But sometimes, it just doesn’t seem that way. We fall ill. We suffer. We become destitute – of food, of strength and courage, of healing, of deliverance from problems. Dreams are not fulfilled. Longings are not satisfied. We groan. Tears fall.

But all these don’t change the truth: To those who have received the Lord Jesus Christ and who believe on His name, they are the children and heirs of God. We have that unseen treasure, treasure that neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal (part of Mat. 6:20)…

neither death nor life

nor angels nor principalities nor powers

nor things present nor things to come 

nor height nor depth…

Nothing and no one shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom.8:38-39).

So we suffer tribulation, but in essence, in truth, in reality – we are good. We will be fine.

It is well with our soul.

We are not left behind. We are not forsaken. We are not poverty-stricken. The Lord Jesus said in Rev. 2:9: “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)…” Yes, heirs-of-the-kingdom-of-God rich. 

A beloved preacher in our church and his wife came from a wake an hour after Christmas Eve. They were going home to their place knowing that they didn’t have any food prepared for noche buena. So, when they passed by Mini Stop, they realized they were hungry, so they entered and had each a siopao (Chinese steamed bun). The beloved preacher told his wife cheerfully, “So, this is our noche buena.”

While the rest of the Philippines celebrated Christmas Eve with tables laden with food, gifts piled up under the Christmas trees, and carols and laughters ringing out, the beloved preacher and his wife enjoyed their siopao. And they were perfectly fine.

And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)

When we maintain a “kingdom of God” perspective, we wouldn’t know or see lack. We only know what we have in Christ.

It would have seemed in my last post that all I desire is to go to places I’ve never been and fill up my senses with the things I would see and experience. But that is not what is foremost in my mind. My desire is to do the will of God. I already have a plan set in place: When I’m already well, I will go wherever the Lord sends me to – to testify and win souls.

At the beginning of 2016, I set my life’s theme based on Isaiah 6:8: “Here am I! Send me.”  Throughout the year, every prayer I prayed for my healing, I ended it with, “Here am I, Lord, send me!”

I wasn’t sent anywhere except to my painting table or the patio. Still, it is well with my soul.

A MOST BLESSED, PROSPEROUS, VERY NEW YEAR TO US ALL!

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Live Loved

It’s all coming to me now, cascading like cool waterfalls and awakening every fiber of my being. As I continue to walk closely with the Lord in this hard season of my life, ever receptive to His voice speaking, guiding, teaching — He leads me through narrower paths and deeper waters of faith. As I yield myself to His ever-patient molding, re-forming, and renewing, I find myself swimming above the waters instead of drowning. He enriches my faith, my obedience, my love, my hope, and there is an abiding light in my otherwise dim world.

live_loved

I sat down at the edge of the bed maybe to switch on the lamp or reset my docked iPod (I can’t be sure now), but in that moment, His words came, and my hand, whatever it was reaching for, stopped in mid-air. He got my attention and I wondered, really wondered, how I could have missed it all this time. All these years. Maybe that’s what self-absorption does to us (or some other). It lulls us to spiritual slumberland and shuts out His voice.

Every time you wallow in envy, jealousy, comparison, covetousness, self-pity, resentment, bitterness, even unforgiveness, you have not abided in My love. As long as you abide in them, you will not know the fullness of My love. You will always feel unloved or loved less. For these things happen to one who has not My love nor has known it. This breaks My heart, for everything that I had done, I did it because of My love for you.

This, more or less, was the essence of the Lord’s message in that moment of epiphany.

The times that I had indulged myself with those negative emotions, being weak to totally fend them off, but succumbing to them time and again, had me living outside of love. More importantly, outside of the Savior’s love. And this was what really stopped me dead in my tracks: Every time I had dwelt in them, I had unconsciously spurned His love for me. For if I had been fully abiding in His love, carefully holding every drop of it safe in my bosom, there wouldn’t have been reason to feel those things, let alone revel in them like I had all the reasons in the world to do so. Whether it was done unconsciously or not, or in moments of weakness or deep anguish, it had some tinge of rebellion to it. But this isn’t the life the Lord has called me to.

In the early months after my salvation, I was euphoric. The Savior has delivered me from an adulterous life. I imagined Him thundering to the gates of hell and snatching me from its clutches before it was too late. When I thought of the many opportunities the devil could have plunged me to my death as being unsaved yet, BUT the Savior never allowed it — I was overwhelmed by His great love.

When did I begin to equate His love (or seeming lack of it in my limited understanding and vision) to sickness and suffering, to unhealing, to hardships, to misery, to sorrow, to unfulfilled dreams, to unanswered prayers? I think it was the time I didn’t receive answer to my most urgent prayer — my healing and deliverance from suffering — and countless times after that as the years flew away swiftly, like falling leaves in autumn, and still without receiving the healing I was so desperately begging for.

Then began the years that I lived like His child who was loved less, favored less, the one who wasn’t deserving of a miracle as grand as healing of a grievously broken body. More like a sooty Cinderella that tended the cinders rather than a beloved princess – daughter of the King of kings. I gravitated towards intense feelings of envy and jealousy to those whom I saw His favor heaped upon, not realizing these were already taking root in my soul.

However, I saw also that God had been faithful in other areas of my life and continues to be so to this day. That is why gratitude has not left my heart neither have my lips withheld praise and thanksgiving. I’ve lost count of the many testimonies to His enduring mercies which I hold close to my heart.

Nevertheless, the ceaseless pounding of illness and suffering on my already battered body had somehow shrouded God’s love for me. Even Apostle Paul’s exhortation on Christ’s love had not been able to appease my sorrowing heart.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:35, 37, 38, 39)

I knew and believed without a doubt that whatever happened in this life, the Lord would take me to His dwelling place, where there’s no more crying nor sickness and suffering. I believed that nothing could snatch me out of His hand as He assures His children. But I couldn’t help but see the sufferings in my life as God’s punishments, or to put it mildly, His chastisements. I don’t know when I started to develop that mindset but it had taken deep roots through the years that when my illness and suffering intensified, I cowered in fear of Him and saw only His severity.

I understand that God chastises or disciplines His children when they err or become wayward. It is another token of His love (see Heb. 12:6-7). But though it wasn’t the case for me, through the years, I felt like I lived in an atmosphere of constant chastisements and less-than love. It was hard to reconcile my harrowing reality with the truth that He loved me completely. It was a challenge to experience His love, let alone bask in it.

But He made me realize that I need not live like this.

So now, I’m coming a long way from that place of believing I was being severely punished to that place called love where my Savior dwells. There is a need for me to relearn His truths, to listen well to the Holy Spirit’s voice: God is not punishing me (the Lord Jesus Christ had already borne all that). I am relearning to see my Savior in a new light: one who loves me and delights to give me eternal life. I am making baby steps toward that love, a love that nurtures and heals and binds up and never strikes or harms (crying now).

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart… (Is. 40:11).

Live loved. What does it look like? It’s peace and quiet rest, security and confidence; untainted joy; generous kindness and gentleness. It’s a child basking in the warmth of her Father’s unfailing love.

Live loved, dear one. It’s the will of the Father for us. Anything less is from the devil. Our Savior died on the cross to prove His love for us. There’s no greater love than His. And nothing can ever separate us from it.

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A Place Called Love

I am only now seriously learning how to settle in the circle of God’s perfect love, that new, almost uncharted territory (for me) where fears and doubts find no place. Imagine a baby in its crib, doted upon by its parents, cocooned and secure in their love. It is not doing anything to add to that love, yet, it doesn’t know how to feel afraid. Yes, that. That is the place I’m talking about.

Twelve years ago, I came to the Savior literally trembling in fear, both from my scary, undiagnosed illness and from the powerful sting of sin, as dark as adultery. I had instantly felt the loving arms of my Lord and Savior encircling me in a warm embrace, His peace dislodging much of the fear and trembling. Yet, through the years, they never completely left.

With the continued suffering of an unhealed body, it was hard to put firmly in place all the powerful words I was learning from God’s Word. It was as if the illness which refused to budge —- the symptoms that came and went, ebbing then swelling up again —- was a strong proof of my past sins, and the thought that maybe…maybe I had not repented enough? But that’s just one of the devil’s many lies. For a whole season after I received salvation, I was always on my knees confessing, weeping in repentance, and begging for complete forgiveness and deliverance. This “proof” or lie, the devil took advantage of to great extent, every now and then whispering condemnations and accusations, reminding me of what I had done, always trying to push me into that place of fear, fighting tooth and nail to put me back in bondage. Although the voice of the Holy Spirit almost always gained the upper hand in these wrestlings — fears, confusion, and doubts were never dissolved completely as long as unhealing occurred.

There is no true freedom with fear’s constant presence. On the contrary, there is seemingly a relentless battering of the spirit which eventually affects the body and aggravates the suffering — tension and pain in the muscles, restless stomach and heart, headaches, etc. Apostle John put it so accurately: Fear involves torment.

For a very long time I couldn’t quite grasp it. I had studied the Word and knew I had found the key – perfect love casts out fear – but it remained just beyond my reach, like little orbs of light dancing, ever shifting in front of me, but I was never able to capture and keep.

I read His promises and believed and trusted with all my heart, then waited in expectation. But when healing remained out of reach…the story became complicated.

At this time of my life that the Lord has opened a door to new learning, fresh freedom, and deeper spiritual maturity, I am scrambling to pick up everything I need before the door is shut again. He takes my hand in His and is gently but firmly leading me to a place I hadn’t believed I could freely enter and thrive in. I am just realizing now that our fears, when we, consciously or unconsciously, let them reign in our lives, could hinder us from entering that place the Savior beckons us to: A place called love where fear can’t reign or exist advantageously.

Fear dilutes the power of God’s Word in our lives if we let it. Unfortunately, more often than not, we do. But now, I am totally awake to what the Lord is showing me: I had let fear and doubts choke the Word, thus, I had not known how to fully establish myself in His love. I had let the devil’s lies, taking advantage of my prolonged illness and suffering, sow bitterness in me and develop skepticism to God’s promises. This had kept me in that place of want, of longing, of sadness and sighing.

The Lord calls us in love, peace, and joy. What I am doing now is reading and re-studying the Word with a clean slate, not marred by unbeliefs and doubts, skepticism, cynicism even, bitterness, resentment, or sorrow. I am re-establishing His promises in my life like it’s the first time — no prejudices or judgments based on past experiences — and resolutely erasing the impression that they had failed.

The key now is to believe the Word as it is, period. Whatever it says, receive it without doubts, period. Then let it do its work.

A Child of God

 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. (John 1:12)

I have received him wholeheartedly, unreservedly in my life, thus, I am now a true child of God and it’s about time that I live up to that position – He has given me the right! There are so many things to learn being a child of God, but we can start in revelling in the Father’s love as beloved sons and daughters.

The Father’s Love

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1)

I will behold God’s love for me and be in awe of it. I will not equate my illness and suffering, my unhealing yet (or any unanswered prayer) with God’s love. God’s love is a truth that is established forever. I believe healing starts from this place.

Perfected in Love

But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. (1 John 2:5)

I will keep His Word, believe in it even when circumstances dictate that I will doubt it. I will abide in His Word, not questioning it, more so when waves of hardships come to test. I believe it is through tenacious, steadfast, unwavering faith, unmarred by doubts, that His love is perfected in us, that His love could work powerfully in our lives.

No Place for the Devil

For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. (1 John 3:20)

Don’t let the devil condemn, accuse or oppress us! God and His love for us are far greater and more powerful than any lie the devil could concoct. And if we stumble that the devil has an occasion to condemn us, We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous ( 1 John 2:1).

In our deepest need, we so long to feel God’s love wrapped around us like a warm blanket, to experience it first-hand and not just know or read about it. We desperately want His love manifested in our lives through our healing and emancipation from suffering. That will come. Our wholeness — healing of mind, heart, and body — is a part of His covenant with His children. In the meantime, we must trust His every word, every promise.

Let us end today’s message with the beautiful words of Ephesians 3:17-19. I love how the New Living Translation puts it:

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

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The Pharisee Mentality

I have noticed a beautiful change in my spiritual life lately. Just when I stopped striving too hard to perfect my ways before the Lord and acted instead as His child who is loved, cherished, and a constant recipient of His grace and mercy, that was the time I began to feel and really enjoy His love. For years I had worked very hard to deserve His favor, perfecting my ways all day and night even when I felt my mind and body were burning out and my heart was shrinking.

I had been that hard to my sick and suffering self, willing it to do more for the Lord in each and every day perchance He would took pity on me and He would completely heal me at last. Looking back, I realize it now that those years, though replete with tough and precious lessons, were also the ones that were almost devoid of joy, rest, and a nurtured feeling. As I drove myself hard to win God’s favor, I felt I was becoming more bitter and certainly didn’t know how to rest in God’s love.

I would force myself to read chapters of the Bible even between my morning and evening devotions. I’d praise in my mind unceasingly as I rested. I taught the Bible to my children nightly even when I was dizzy and not breathing comfortably. I learned to sing new songs during my idle time. I didn’t socialize via Internet (and since I couldn’t go out, I had zero social life). I only read the Bible or Christian devotional books. I didn’t watch movies or TV. I never learned computer games. I only approved of Scrabble as a game for the whole family. My days were shaped by a great, cowering fear of God and desperate striving for perfection. Because of all these, when I still suffered despite of all that, I questioned God bitterly in my heart. I couldn’t feel His rest, love, and nurturing. There was only striving. I entertained hurts, resentments, and self-pity in my heart. My posture was of one who questioned, or had the right to question. I had these silent thoughts:

Why does God continue to bless him/her though I haven’t seen his/her perfect ways?

Why is he/she healthy, peaceful, happy though I haven’t seen him/her do diligently what I do for God?

I’ve praised, prayed, read the Bible, obeyed Jesus’ teachings, and yet, I’m still sick and suffering.

Yes, I could only see my attempts at perfection, what I did, but only became bitter because of them. Maybe, unknowingly, I had stood before God silently displaying my works and had not known how to rest in His love and receive His grace. Even when I hadn’t been perfect before Him. Especially when I hadn’t been perfect before Him.

This had made me like the Pharisee in Luke 18:10-14:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14)

When I finally let go of perfectionism and my strivings {I didn’t force myself to sing when I couldn’t; I didn’t force myself to read chapters of the Bible when it was hard to breathe; I slept instead of doing one more spiritual thing because it was what my sick body needed; I socialized on FB and it made me happy and I didn’t feel guilty about it; I read good, clean Christian novels; I watched good, clean Hallmark movies or Dove-approved movies (I also watched novel-made-intomovies like Catherine Cookson’s, though I felt miserable with them); I didn’t terrorize myself in my mind when I failed or committed a mistake} – it was then that I truly felt God’s love working in my life. That I can rest in it. When I loosened myself of the grip of perfectionism and allowed some ‘clean, fun living’ with all the shortcomings, mistakes, and failures that came with it – God’s grace and mercy in my life became more palpable.

When I allowed myself to be just His child with the mistakes that a child makes, my praise and worship of Him became deeper and more soul-felt because then I knew that I was under grace and in need of His mercy. 

Why can’t we be more like little children before God – humble and obedient but fun-knowing, imperfect but loving and devoted to Him?

“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat. 18:3)

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Finding Our Way to His ‘Yes’

The spontaneous prayer was triggered by a comment on FB. I posted a photo of a present from Dubai from one of our Church’s worship leaders who ministers overseas. Wherever he is sent to, he brings me home a souvenir. Last year was a framed collection of  sands of the Middle East. That had touched a chord in me, rekindling my hope to be healed and be able to travel to distant shores to share the Gospel. This had been my belief: the sands served as a sign that someday, I’d be able to walk on them. But after another year of waiting, adding to the decade before that – the fire gradually ebbed again.

But many of my beloved brethren in Christ who continue to hope and pray for my complete healing expressed their undying faith that, yes, someday, I’ll be traveling and testifying about the love of Jesus. They have that undiminished hope for me, but what of my own self?

I sat at the edge of the bed and prayed, because the discrepancy of the measure of faith between my brethren in Christ and me lay heavy on my conscience.

I told the Lord how my desire and hope to be healed have gradually gone downhill all these years of waiting. My prayer went something like this:

Lord Jesus, I think I haven’t enough desire left to continue to wrestle for my healing. It just petered out without me even realizing it, until now. Other things had made me preoccupied and satisfied that I hadn’t realized I wasn’t that hungry for healing anymore.

Sure, I still pray for it incessantly, but somehow, it’s different now. I know that without robust faith, I can’t possibly receive miraculous healing.

But Lord, if You’re waiting for me to be perfect, that is, blameless and without blemish, before You decide to heal me – then I believe I will never receive it. If You require my perfection before You will heal me, then I think I’ll never be healed.

But I don’t think that’s the way You operate, Lord. You have great mercy and compassion in You to give what I desire and need. That even my lack and imperfections are covered by Your love. All of it – my disease and faults – is covered by Your magnanimous love. And so, I know, that healing could come – because of who You are and not what I do or not do.

For, Lord, I believe I had done everything I knew to try to move Your hand to heal me. For the past decade, I diligently behaved myself before You – cowering in great fear, constant repentance, and humble obedience. I tried everything I knew – having faith that could move mountains, trusting only in You, immersing in the Word and living in it, worshiping, testifying to whosoever would care to lend their ears. And when that hadn’t been enough – to bear and endure unto the end.

But Lord, 11 years had come and gone and I remain unhealed and unable to walk beyond few feet. I’m beginning to think now that maybe it’s not really what I do that will move You. If You really want to, if You’re willing, I know You can heal me in the blink of an eye. And so, I leave it all up to You.

The tears began to tumble down my face. And for me, that is always a good thing. Shedding tears for my Lord and my God is never a waste but an offering. Suddenly, a shift happened inside me. I spoke again.

But Lord, You are all that really matters. Whatever I say, whatever I desire for my life – it is You who really matters. As long as I love You with all I am and You love me eternally – that is all that matters.

Tears streamed down; my body shook in uncontrollable sobs. I received His ‘yes’. His resounding ‘Yes!’ For to desire to love my Savior King with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength will always elicit a ‘yes’ from Him. For this is the first and greatest commandment (see Mat. 22:36-38).

Do you find it hard to receive His ‘yes’? Just love Him. You know His answer to that.

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Love Will See Us Through

Love will see us through. A cliche? A line in a classic ballad? However you see or interpret it, its truth still stands. Because even though chaos, injustice, and pain and suffering are present in the world, the love of Christ is still powerful and reigns in the hearts of everyone who loves and believes in God. And when it does, miracles still do happen. Miracles that are sometimes overlooked because people may have become blind, cynical, or numbed by overabundance. But if we consider it deeply, every good thing that happens in our lives, even those which hurt us but later turn out to be for the furtherance of our faith – love is the one that’s really at work.

Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Rom. 5:5)

It is love which holds Brother J together as he waits up for God’s deliverance of him from a prison cell in China. It is what lights up his soul and cell that he can only see undying hope.

It is love for her six children and sick husband that Sister Melanie travels many miles from their home to wash, fold, and iron laundry of another family just to earn money for food.

It is love why Bro. Caindoy was saved and healed of his lung and stomach cancers which the doctors in the hospital said there was no more hope for him. And because he has known and received this powerful love of the Savior that healed him, no one could stop him from worshiping the Lord, even a very wet pants and rubber shoes, which were the only things he had. After Friday overnight service, he washed them, for the road that led to their home was muddy. But on Sunday morning, they were as wet as when he hung them to dry, for it was rainy season. But he prayed and laid his hands on his rubber shoes and in Jesus’ name, he claimed them to be as dry as a bone, and they were! The Lord Jesus love is so powerful in his life that he has been serving Him zealously over the past two decades.

It is love that made Jesus endure the cruel scourgings so that by His wounds we’re healed. It is what held Him on the cross, so that by His death, we might have life. One that never ever ends.

If we think about the love Jesus has for us – perfect love that casts out all fears, powerful love that saves and heals and gives life – there is no cause for worry. He loves us – That. Is. True! We find our way to this love by letting Him into our lives, following His light, obeying His Word, and abiding in Him.

Love never fails… (1 Cor. 13:8)

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The Exquisite Workings of Love {The Testimony of Bro. Billy Dela Fuente}

Meditating on Psalm 145.

I will extol You, my God, O King;
And I will bless Your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless You,
And I will praise Your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
And His greatness is unsearchable. (vv. 1-3)

Now, we know that God is the source of love – pure, powerful, undying. God is love (1 John 4:8). He weaves bittersweet, yet, beautiful stories out of our lives. Psalm 145 is definitely a beautiful psalm that merits a story that will tug at our heartstrings. I read the psalm and I couldn’t help but put it side by side with the testimony I heard recently in our Church.

Psalm 145 extols the splendor of God’s majesty, His wondrous works and awesome acts, His greatness and goodness, compassion and mercy! How do we make this psalm become alive so that we can experience – hear, feel, taste – it to the full? I have a story for you.

I have written about Brother J before on this blog (I didn’t take the time to locate it – sorry!). The reason I can’t use his real name is because, his parents were advised not to divulge personal information about him while the case is on-going, except for the testimonies his father shares in church. To give you a brief background: Brother J surrendered his life to the Lord in his youth. Though he was the only one saved in the family, this didn’t deter him to serve the Lord fervently. He shared the Gospel to his father but he was only laughed at. His father was fiercely religious in the traditional way, bowing and praying before graven images.

Brother J wanted to help his family financially, so he applied for work abroad through an agency. He believed that the Lord would guide and protect him especially that he was young and innocent in the ways of the world. To make the story short, Brother J was hired to work in a factory in China. The day he would leave for China, he was instructed by the agency to fly to Singapore first, meet someone there, then proceed to China. As innocent and unsuspecting Brother J was, he met with the man in Singapore, received the parcel given him, then flew to China. At the airport there, he was at once handcuffed and whisked away to prison. He was accused of being a drug mule.

It’s been 5 years since that happened. His parents have long received the Lord Jesus Christ and been serving Him faithfully, often offering prayers and fasting. The father, Bro. Billy, has joined the Adults Choir. Every time he testifies, I cry. I cry for his son who’s languishing in jail in China. And I pray for him, too. Brother J’s original sentence was life. He didn’t waver in his faith in God. He praised, worshiped, and prayed. He requested for a Holy Bible and in the darkness of the prison, shared the Gospel to his fellow inmates. Even those who oversee the prisons took to him. The next time he was evaluated, his sentence was reduced to 26 years, then 18, then 14, and now 12. He’ll be evaluated again soon and the ardent prayer of the parents and the Church is for him to be freed already.

The Lord upholds all who fall,
And raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look expectantly to You,
And You give them their food in due season.
16 You open Your hand
And satisfy the desire of every living thing. (vv. 14-16)

Just recently, Brother J’s parents traveled to China to visit him. They were allowed by the Chinese Embassy at last. From Manila to China, Bro. Billy did nothing but pray and weep that they’d be able to touch and embrace their beloved son. They were told by the officials in the embassy that they could only see him through a thick glass and talk to him via telephone. But Bro. Billy was praying for a miracle. He wanted to embrace his son who was painfully missed.

Even when they were ushered into the receiving room, Bro. Billy didn’t stop praying and crying until his voice was hoarse and his eyes were red and puffy. While bowed down in his seat, someone put a hand on his stooped shoulders. When he looked up, he couldn’t believe his eyes! His beloved son was standing before him with his open arms. Hallelujah!

The Lord is righteous in all His ways,
Gracious in all His works.
18 The Lord is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
19 He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He also will hear their cry and save them. (vv. 17-19)

Brother J’s fervent love for Jesus Christ sees him through his hardest trial. It is actually Jesus’ love working powerfully in him. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

The Lord preserves all who love Him… (v. 20)

(Photo courtesy of my cousin Bill Raras).

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Journey with Jesus,